Game 40, Mariners at Twins: The *Real* Pitching Depth Was Inside Of Us All Along

marc w · May 14, 2018 at 3:45 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Wade LeBlanc vs. Jake Odorizzi, 4:10pm

Yesterday’s game was an abject disaster. The M’s lost a game started by their ace, James Paxton, pushing the M’s season record in Pax’s appearances to just 5-4, which is somehow the worst record for any M’s starter. Worse, they lost Robinson Cano to a broken pinky finger thanks to an inside pitch from Blaine Hardy. The M’s had a perfect chance to win another series with their best pitcher facing a guy who’d never started a big league game in his life, and left with a loss and serious questions mounting about how to deploy Juan Nicasio AND with their star 2B out for several weeks.

It feels unfair, because it is. Cano’s been an important part of the M’s successful offense by getting on base like never before (his .385 OBP would be a career high). Paxton’s pitched well enough to win multiple times, only to see his bullpen lose a lead or, like yesterday, give up the winning run. Sure, sure, he’s been bailed out by his offense a few times, especially in his start in Texas, but you feel like the M’s should *win* Paxton’s start, given that James Paxton is *James Paxton* and all, but it doesn’t always work that way. Instead, the M’s have better records in the games Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, and Marco Gonzales have started despite the fact that all three have pitched worse than Pax. It kind of reminds me of the M’s of 2006-2007, when the M’s won nearly all of Cha Seung Baek’s starts despite the fact that he wasn’t exactly dominating, or when the M’s were nearly .500 in Horacio Ramirez’s starts – the games in which he walked more than he K’d and put up an ERA of 7.16.

Is that a problem with the way we look at statistics? Paxton’s peripherals paint a picture of an elite starter, but if the M’s aren’t winning his games, should that change our view of him? No. Just…no. Things like record in appearances has no predictive value, as it’s includes – is designed to include – a ton of information about things that are extraneous to the pitcher. Let’s flip it around: the M’s are 1-6 in games in which Wade LeBlanc has appeared. This has next to nothing to do with LeBlanc, who’s been oddly effective pretty much every time. It has everything to do with the fact that he started the year as the team’s garbage time reliever, and thus appeared in two blowout losses, and has one of the lowest leverage indexes on the team. It’s bad luck mixed with the role the M’s used him in, so it has no bearing on how we view him as a starter. He’s not a AAAA guy without the will to win; he’s solid starting pitching depth. Perhaps a bit boring, but *good* boring – the total inverse of the Juan Nicasio experience right now (bad-exciting).

Let’s pan out a bit here: the M’s acquired good-boring Wade LeBlanc at the end of spring training to help shore up their SP depth, something that looked like a weakness, but which the team itself was fairly confident in. LeBlanc wasn’t thrust into the role initially; he didn’t need to be. The M’s had so many off-days, they didn’t need a 5th starter, and thus Ariel Miranda could cool his jets in Tacoma while the club waited on the return of Erasmo Ramirez. The club had Andrew Moore in AA and Rob Whalen/Max Povse in AAA behind that. You can kind of see what the FO would’ve been thinking – you don’t want to bring in just any SP on a one year deal to block Whalen/Povse/Moore, but none of those guys would fetch something better in trade. They had multiple options to go to, and with the restructuring of the bullpen, you could argue that they’d need many fewer IP from 5th-6th-7th starters than ever before.

And panning out still more, it’s not like this was a brand new situation. Dipoto and company inherited a team with very little in the way of starting pitching depth, and what little they had was stuck in the low-minors. In order to keep their contention window open, they needed to look for more near-term options. They weren’t in the position of the Astros, who could sell off bits of near-majors pitching depth to fill holes. The Astros probably aren’t too concerned with the fact that everyone from Teoscar Hernandez to Josh Hader were traded off; the ‘Stros got their championship, after all. The M’s didn’t have a Josh Hader, let alone a combo of Teoscar Hernandez and Domingo Santana to move. They’ve had to rebuild their pitching depth from the ground up.

Or maybe not. Yesterday, ex-M’s pitcher Freddy Peralta tossed a stunning MLB debut, striking out 13 in 5 2/3 IP of 1-hit ball. On the 9th, Enyel de los Santos, fired 7 IP of one hit ball for the Phillies AAA club, bringing his season ERA below 1, and giving him 39 Ks in 32 1/3 IP. Ryan Yarbrough starts tonight for the Rays, and he’s got a FIP of about 4 in 29+ big league innings. Zack Littell isn’t going 20-1 like he did last year, but he’s up in AAA with the Twins org, and could get a look fairly soon. Pablo Lopez has made 5 starts for the Marlins AA team, and given up just a single run in 26 IP; he has a 27:4 K:BB ratio. Evidently, the M’s had a ton more depth than essentially everyone knew about.

With the possible exception of Yarbrough, who many saw as a 5th starter, none of these guys were on prospect hounds radar. We’re not talking about Luiz Gohara or Nick Neidert, the two guys who were consensus top-10 types. Guys like Dillon Overton were on the list at one point, as were close-to-the-majors relievers like Dan Altavilla; it’s not like there weren’t big-league pitchers identfied, but . Edwin Diaz was on it in 2016, even though we didn’t know he WAS a close-to-the-majors-reliever at the time. Zack Littell and Pablo Lopez had decent stats, but were pooh-poohed by the prospect watchers. de los Santos had decent stuff, but was seen as a longshot when he was swapped for Joaquin Benoit, kind of like Peralta when he was the secondary piece in the trade for Adam Lind (Daniel Missaki was the headliner, despite the fact he was rehabbing from TJ surgery he underwent in 2015. Now, about 3 years later, he’s yet to pitch again). The good news is that the M’s system was dramatically better for pitching depth than anyone thought. The bad news is that it’s all gone.

This is not purely an indictment of the FO; I’ve written those posts before. Clearly, it’s some sort of a problem that the M’s have either not identified big league talent or not properly valued it. It could also be that these guys would never have gotten to where they are had they stayed, which just shifts blame from one department to another. On the other hand, though…that’s a lot of starting pitching depth in a system that wasn’t supposed to have any. At least a few had already showed signs of being much more than their original scouting reports thought, and that’s true for guys at lower levels as well, like JP Sears and Robert Dugger. No, not everyone who’s been moved has instantly starred – Jio Orozco and Brandon Miller come to mind. But I keep waiting for the M’s to prove the industry experts wrong. I want to not laugh when the M’s vociferously deny that their prospects are the worst group in baseball. This is intriguing evidence that, while you could use it to bury the FO, the experts aren’t foolproof any more than the teams are. The M’s weren’t responsible here, but *baseball* turned a group of org depth guys into real, actual, high-minors (or majors) SP depth. It sucks that they’ve essentially leapfrogged Whalen/Povse/and possibly Moore, but the fact that it happened gives me a bit of pause when I lament the lack of depth in the system now.

The question is, what does this mean? That the M’s had a secretly good draft class years ago? What does this mean for the future? Is this like the M’s record in Wade LeBlanc appearances, and it has no bearing on the future? Was this all due to the previous FO who signed Lopez, Littell, Yarbrough, etc.? Or does it show that the M’s have been better than previously thought at developing unheralded pitchers? I guess we’ll see.

Jake Odorizzi was an obvious trade candidate this off-season as the Rays clearly hit reset and went into a rebuild. Given his fly balling ways and broad repertoire, I thought he’d be the ideal Jerry Dipoto project. This team has already tried off-brand Odorizzis like Nate Karns and Drew Smyly – it seemed like the time to try the real thing. But given their pursuit of Shohei Ohtani and the deals to acquire Dee Gordon, the M’s cupboard was pretty bare. The Twins, fresh off a surprise playoff appearance, pushed their chips in the middle and acquired Odorizzi for a minor league OF and then picked up Lance Lynn on a bounce-back contract. It all looked like textbook GM’ing and adapting to a new, better, place on the win curve. Be more like Thad Levine, we said.

The Twins are now 17-19, and their revamped pitching staff is neck and neck with the M’s staff. The M’s “first, do no harm” approach didn’t bring in a lot of depth outside of nearly-free guys like LeBlanc and Roenis Elias. The new guys for the Twins have been the anchors of the rotation, as Lynn’s ERA is 7.34 and his FIP’s in the mid-5s, while Odorizzi ERA masks a FIP that’s worse than Lynn’s. The two are 1-2 in HR rate on the Twins (anyone who’s pitched at least 20 IP). Odorizzi’s got a rising fastball, a sinker, a slider and curve, both with solid horizontal movement, and his outpitch, a splitter. That pitch allowed him to get grounders when he needed them, and got a ton of swings on pitches outside of the zone, just the way Hisashi Iwakuma used to do. Unfortunately, his command of the pitch has slipped a bit, and now batters aren’t offering at balls. His swing rate on the pitch is way down, and the percentage called balls are way up. That means that when batters *do* swing, they’re swinging at slightly higher pitches, which may be why they’re not topping the pitch as much this year.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Gamel, LF
9: Beckham, 2B
SP: LeBlanc

Welcome back Gordon Beckham. The ex-White Sox 2B/3B played well for Tacoma last year and got a September call-up. He re-signed with the M’s this year and he’s gotten the call to replace Robbie Cano. He was hitting .300/.412/.500 for Tacoma with more walks than Ks, and that .200 ISO is the best mark he’s put up in a long, long while – he had a .197 ISO in half a year in AA in 2009. The M’s had space on the 40 man, so they added him today without a move. They still technically have an opening on the 40-man, as David Phelps is still on the 10-day rather than 60-day dl.

Rob Whalen, Anthony Misiewicz and Reggie McClain start in the M’s minors today, but the game to watch may be in the MWL, as Clinton’s Raymond Kerr takes on former top-pitching-prospect-in-baseball Alex Reyes, who’s making his second pro start since undergoing TJ surgery in 2016; he tossed a few IP for the Cardinals’ Florida State League affiliate a little while ago.


5 Responses to “Game 40, Mariners at Twins: The *Real* Pitching Depth Was Inside Of Us All Along”

  1. mksh21 on May 14th, 2018 5:03 pm

    Good grief. Beckham is a disaster at the MLB level. Whatever he was doing at Tacoma he has done in the Minors everywhere and then sucked the instant he gets another chance.

    With Romine somehow being allowed to take the field AND be allowed to hit and Motter(who I have zero issue with) already on the roster… I’d rather they just let Ichiro play again than this crap.

  2. mrakbaseball on May 14th, 2018 8:12 pm

    Wade LeBlanc has done his thing, who knew?

  3. mksh21 on May 15th, 2018 11:06 am

    Cano 80 games for PED’s… Can we get out of the contract now?

  4. Westside guy on May 15th, 2018 2:44 pm

    Whoa. I just saw the news about Cano.

    While I understand his explanation regarding the diuretic, it doesn’t completely hold water (bad pun intended). MLB Trade Rumors has a good piece on this:

  5. mrakbaseball on May 15th, 2018 3:10 pm

    Suspended 80 games and ineligible for postseason should the M’s advance that far. The Mariners shrugged off the notion of moving Gordon back to second when Cano was simply on the DL, I have to believe an 80-game suspension changes things.

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